The match between Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, four days through, is tantalisingly poised. Zimbabwe are on the cusp of their first ever Test win over Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka are fighting hard and doing everything in their power to ensure that doesn’t happen.
Zimbabwe need 7 wickets. Sri Lanka need 218 runs. Going into the final day, to borrow Ravi Shastri’s oft-used statement, all three results are possible.
The day started with Sri Lanka aiming to catch Zimbabwe before they piled on too many. Sikandar Raza notched up a fairytale first Test hundred, while Malcolm Waller (68), Graeme Cremer (48) and Donald Tiripano (19) all helped Zimbabwe bat nearly half the day as Zimbabwe racked 377, setting Sri Lanka a record 388 to win.
In reply, Sri Lanka started well, and looked intent on going for the total and not playing for a draw. Upul Tharanga and Dimuth Karunaratne helped put up a fifty-run opening stand to set the platform. However, Zimbabwe fought back with three wickets by the end of the day to take the upperhand. The hosts still have a well-set Kusal Mendis at the crease, and most of the hopes will rest on him and former captain Angelo Mathews.
Earlier, Raza needed just two deliveries to move from his overnight score of 97* to get to his maiden hundred. It was a hundred of top quality, coming when the team was in doldrums and fighting off nausea to script an epic knock. Sri Lanka will rue the fact that they let the game slip away from their grasp. They had Zimbabwe on the mat the previous day, but saw their control disappear slowly.
Malcolm Waller and Raza had already put the opposition on the mat the previous day, and they continued in the same vein on the morning of the fourth day. Sri Lanka finally found their wicket when Waller hit a short Dilruwan Perera ball straight to deep mid-wicket. Waller had batted beautifully for his 98-ball 68, but would have been disappointed to get out the way he did.
However, his knock had given Zimbabwe the platform for a win. Raza was the next one to fall, but not before he had added 27 more to his hundred. His trusted reverse sweep off Rangana Herath, a shot that had brought him plenty of runs during the innings, finally failed him and he was out bowled. He had faced 205 balls for his 127, a knock studded with nine fours, a six and a lot of well-judged singles and doubles.
When play resumed after Lunch, Zimbabwe were ahead by 350, and looked set to pile up more than 400 for Sri Lanka to chase down. Cremer and Tiripano started slowly, as Sri Lanka continued to look bereft of ideas, but the scoring never really threatened to hit a spike. Finally, Tiripano took the initiative and started hitting out. He survived a dropped chance and a run out opportunity but was caught plumb in front by Dilruwan Perera to end a fifty-run stand. When Cremer did try and manufacture a shot, a paddle off Herath, he only succeeded in top edging it to slip. Zimbabwe were bowled out for 377, setting Sri Lanka a record 388 to win the lone Test.
Sri Lanka had only twice managed to score more than 388 in the fourth innings in their history, against Australia (410) and Pakistan (391), but neither had resulted in wins. If they were to chase this down, it would be Sri Lanka’s biggest successful Test chase, as well as the biggest in the country. Dimuth Karunaratne and Upul Tharanga ensured the hosts suffered no setbacks in their chase, helping the side get to Tea at unscathed.
The first setback for Sri Lanka came in the 20th over, when Cremer had Tharanga out caught at bat-pad. Sean Williams then got a ball to spin viciously from outside off to take the stumps, and when Chandimal edged Cremer to slip, SL looked in danger of losing their way. Mathews (17) and Mendis (60) denied the visitors any late wickets as the home side went into stumps on the penultimate day at 170/3, needing 218 more to win.
Brief scores: Zimbabwe 356 & 377 (Sikandar Raza 127, Malcolm Waller 68, Rangana Herath 6-133) vs Sri Lanka 346 & 170/3 (Kusal Mendis 60*, Graeme Cremer 2-67) Sri Lanka need another 218 runs to win